- Deke N Blue
- (Note: Ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily shared by the transit agency I work for. This is simply an expression of free speech while describing the work bus operators perform.) I have been (and called) many things in this life. Most of all, I'm a writer who happens to drive a bus. In May of '13 I thought it would be fun to write about my job. As a direct result of this blog, I published a book in November of 2017 called "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane" that is available on Amazon. I write to provide insight as to what it's like on a bus... From The Driver Side. Thank you for reading!
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Last time my face oozed, these contraptions
were my "cell phone."
"You should see the other guy," I responded. Outwardly, I shrugged. As soon as he walked down the aisle, I checked the mirror like a teenager primping for the prom. Yeah, I was. Bloody, that is.
I was bleeding? Okay. No altercations had erupted, and for once I hadn't run face-first into a sharp corner. What could that be?
At the next long stoplight, I explored as closely as I could without arousing passenger interest. Luckily for me, they were telefixed as usual. A convex mirror makes close facial examination difficult. I could tell however, there was a trail of blood and oil on my passenger side cheek. It couldn't erupt under my facial scruff. No. It appeared, in the zenith of my 50s, on this still-youthful face, a malady last visited upon me decades earlier. Point-blank above the beard-line on my cheek bone.
It was a zit. Big one. Oozing that oily concoction that usually appeared before a teen date. I hadn't noticed it earlier after showering. My pre-workday toilette is standard and well-practiced. Brush hair for the first and only time of the day. Scrub teeth. Throw on some smell-goods. There's usually no need to even look at my face, let alone study it. That's for young or vain people, I reason. My face isn't much to look at, and I've long-since past needing to primp. My wife loves me just the way I am. Gonna get that girl an eye exam soon, poor thing.
At my layover, a closer examination revealed the classic pimple. It had come on quickly and built quite a head. Reminded me of the Everest of a nose projection I sported as a 14-year-old. That one erupted in a stream that laid greasy trails upon my mother's bathroom mirror. This one was angry, including blood in its nasty brew.
I take pride in my professional appearance. Shirt tucked in neatly, nothing untidy on my bus or person. For three days last week however, everyone who boarded was accosted by a dime-sized mess on my face. It was embarrassing, especially when it oozed goo. Didn't shave for a few days because of it, and when the whiskers were too noticeably grubby above the beard line, my razor scraped the puss bucket and created a mess anew.
It's now fading, and that feels better. Although I hardly resemble a teenager any more, the feelings associated with acne came back for a visit. Now it's a bit humorous, and that shame has been pushed back into the past along with everything else best left in the 70s. Let it smolder with the shudder-worthy music I hated then and still dislike now. KC and the Sunshine Band can keep my zit memories. Maybe it's time to allow my inner Grizzly Adams to take over...
Friday, November 24, 2017
"Ask not what your country can do for you... ask what you can do for your country."
While I could give you a history lecture, most of you who read this blog don't do so for that reason. You want to hear what we, as transit operators, do on a daily basis. This quote will be altered here to illuminate a very dark problem.
Whoever came up with Daylight Savings Time? It's a royal pain in the ass, especially in our northern locale. It's dark... a lot. What do our fellow citizens, many who ride transit daily, choose to wear for Portland's most fashionable winter color? Well, it's not a color. It's dark. Dark clothing absorbs light. The opposite end of the spectrum reflects it. When it is dark a good deal of the time, and raining, we cannot see you very well. You're standing near the stop, or huddled in a shelter that steams up and becomes impossible to see into. Most people today are staring at their phone, completely unaware of a bus lumbering toward their stop. We're expected to see you, even though you're nearly invisible until we're right up on your location. Contrary to public belief, it is not our responsibility to stare at a bus stop until we see you. We're constantly scanning around and to the side of our vehicle, even more so when it's dark outside. The stop ahead gets a cursory second or two glance at the most. Unless you're obvious in your intent to board our ride, it's very possible you could be passed up.
I've seen in countless occasions, the last-second reach-for-the-sky middle-finger salute when people get passed by that bus they want to ride. We're not going to slam on our brakes and throw our passengers to the floor because of your virtual invisibility. Not gonna happen, unless it's a near-side stop and we have to stop for a red light. Then, we're usually surprised when we see you run up to the bus and bang on the door with a furious look of indignation.
"Why didn't you see me?" you might ask as I open the door.
"Indeed," I'll reply.
We're not all blessed with an overflowing fashion budget. Sometimes we don't get new jackets for years. It's understandable. The working class barely gets by, so who is this bus driver to tell you what you should be wearing? We're common-sensical. We have a wide windshield, but when you're not trying to be seen, it's on you. We have 20/20 vision... we're not bionic. Our job is to safely operate our vehicle. Yours is to make your intent to ride obvious. Hold up a light, like that cell phone you're so intent upon. Wave. Buy some reflective tape and throw a piece or two on your outerwear. Make sure we can see you, or you're possibly going to wait a lot longer for a ride than you bargained for.
Our transit agency puts out cute (and highly ineffectual) little ad campaigns which don't really get the word out. So here's my twist on JFK's quote:
"Ask not what your bus operator can do for you, ask what you can do for your bus operator."
Lighten up, folks. Otherwise, that umbrella will be working unnecessary overtime. Be seen, get a ride. It's that simple.
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Transit consumes its workers. From the time we wake up until we can rest again, our bodies are tuned to the hum of 40,000 pounds on six wheels. It's not always a job you can leave behind, especially after a particularly rough day. It follows us home and haunts our dreams. There are times I awaken in a fit of terror, seeing what could have been had I not prevented it. Before you recover from one dream, the alarm sounds the start of yet another day's adventure. "Rinse and repeat," I call it, because as soon as you've washed the previous shift off your skin, another is about to begin.
I began writing this blog simply as an exercise to describe my life. One bus driver's experiences. It's still what this is about. Now I'm tired, beaten and usually rolling toward the next few days off. It's not as fun as when it commenced. When I started this gig, we were #1, baby. Now we've slipped far below that, yet we're expected to believe we're headed anywhere but even lower.
Our GM recently announced his retirement, lusting after his golden prize as we fear our impending demise. My first thought was, "What inept corporate robot will they choose for a replacement?" Surely, it won't be someone who has driven a bus for a living. That would be too eloquent a choice. While our ranks proudly boast multiple talents more than capable of shining in this position, we'll likely be served with a smiling face that can talk to cameras while spouting the corporate line. We've become just another company to be run by many who have never done what they oversee. We could "manage" quite well without some of these folks. Put transit back into the hands of those who have rolled wheels, and you'd see drastic changes for the better. What you're most likely to see is a great to-do about another nothing-much, and the fanfare will be touted by the media as "a new beginning." Realistically, it will likely be yet another ho-hum change of the same old guard.
The new Big Kahuna will be hired from the oozing growth of executives with "impressive" resumes, with transit workers who apply being given a pre-requisite few seconds of consideration. He or she will be lauded by the media as "a promising new direction in local transit." We will just nod our collective heads, saying "Yeah, right. Need some beachfront property in Tucson? I'll sell it to you cheap if you believe this swill."
In the meantime, El Jéfe will luxuriate in his parting bonus, lauding his bridge to nowhere, laughing at his successfully-hidden raises to non-union employees while shrugging off a legacy toward banality. We're headed toward a heavily-taxed coffin, he's off to feast upon golden geese and Donny's tax cuts. This is the post-Teddy Roosevelt reality of the American workforce, and we're 115 years too late to appreciate what the Hero of San Juan Hill accomplished on our behalf.
Maybe I'll apply for the job. I don't have a college degree in Corporata Studies, but I do have a PhD in Blue Collar Americana. That's gotta account for something, eh?
Safe travels brothers and sisters in the real world. It's a rough job, but somebody's gotta do it. Thanks to US, we make transit work.
Monday, November 13, 2017
Marketing a book is walking a fine line between art, and pissing people off so bad they won't even consider buying it. I'm not good at it, so I appeal to the masses who read this blog for whatever reason.
I'm a bus operator. I make a decent wage, but I'm by no means "rich," as many passengers seem to think. To publish this book, I took out a personal loan. In order to pay it back, I need to sell "x" amount of books. Anything after that is gravy. Nobody who self-publishes their first book can realistically expect to make a mint off of it. Unless, of course, they're the 21st century version of Mark Twain. Wish it were true, but reality tells us he remains one of a kind. While many people give me praise and kudos, I don't know; maybe I'll strike a chord, maybe not. People are fickle these days. Thirty-second sound bites are their collective limit. Is this the bill for me? Just thinking it's a possibility is an impossible claim that is easily contradicted by today's online judiciary. I can only hope my words resonate with the masses as I hit you with new blog posts and upcoming books.
I'm constantly in awe of fellow bloggers who write using their true name. That takes cajones grandes, man. There are times I feel like a coward, and ask my readers whether I should reveal my true identity. The overwhelming consensus is a raucous "NO!" Why is this? Because my anonymity allows a certain sense of freedom. I can write more honestly about the job we do out here. Fellow bus operators enjoy when I land a bullet in the mid-section of our reality. Al Margulies, one of my biggest supporters, advocates that I lose the pen name and tell the world who I am. While I'm honored by his constant support from the beginning, I bow to the majority who disagree with him. For now. Robert in Florida supports me, and he writes a fantastic blog as himself. Why must I hide? It's a personal conundrum, and the energy it takes to keep the myth alive is a bit tiresome. This pseudonym secrecy is bound to end. The only question is, will Deke die with his integrity intact, or just fade away?
Hey, it's just a book full of blog posts. Just like this one, almost. It's not earth-shattering, just honest. What's it like to be me? Read the book. That's all. I don't presume to speak for every bus operator. Many disagree at times with what I have to say, most assuredly. However, they respectfully reserve their opinions for whatever reasons. It's a strange web woven by a man who ended up in this profession at the dawn of my fifth decade and decided to write about it.
I am about to distribute copies of my book to the local media. Our International ATU President Larry Hanley has one, and I eagerly (with trepidation) await his review. I'm putting myself "out there" for critical review. Some will be positive, others not so laudatory. Whatever the result, I'm ready. It's "showtime," folks. Not all reviews will be five-stars. As a writer, I can only hope to sell some books while avoiding the appearance of a simple blue-collar wannabe artist.
When I smile and greet you, remember it's not because I serve you; it's because I truly enjoy my job and I want you to know that I'm here to provide you a safe journey. We might even strike chords together. We're all just people, you know. It's a privilege and joy to drive you... not just a paycheck.
Peace be with you, wear bright clothing, and be well. I'll be happy to roll with you, if you choose to be seen.
* * * * *
Buy my book here...
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Until today, I took a week-long hiatus from writing. My mind, body and soul are exhausted. It's been a very long 18 months producing JUST DRIVE. I've felt elation, jubilation and exhilaration while also feeling anxious and self-doubt. Each night after work, I've vegetated in front of the TV, which has become rare. This book has been my main focus for so long, once it became available I heaved a massive sigh of relief. My mind was unable to wrap itself around another blog post. Until now. Watch out, mugs... no telling where this one will go.
Let's begin with the severe lack of brainmanship exhibited lately by the motoring public. ME FIRST is the prevailing wind, and it's as odoriferous as what comes out their biological exhaust pipe. When the clocks turned back an hour last Sunday, it was if everyone around here decided they need to rush everywhere, especially the next red light. Twice this week, testosterone-charged mudbrains have cut me off, then flipped me off for no reason. Hey folks, buses stop then go again. It's as common as screen-addled pedestrians on a blind date with doom. Deal with it. When a bus pulls over, and it's safe for you to do so, go ahead and pass us. We expect it. As we finish servicing the stop, we're going to Yield-Light you and pull back into traffic. That's not the time, especially when there's a double-yellow line in the middle of the street, to pass us. You risk plowing into oncoming traffic, duh. There's also a severe chance of pulverizing the dunce who exits and pretends I'm a school bus with a STOP sign and red flashing lights to protect them from your foolish lack of PATIENCE. You meatheads! It might just save someone's (including yours) life. Imagine your family's life this holiday season while dealing with your untimely death. Suicide might be legal here, but that doesn't mean I should have to assist it.
(Ugh, just had to get that off my mind.)
* * * * *
UBER DRIVERS: STAY THE HELL OUT OF THE BUS LANES DOWNTOWN! It wasn't designed for your poor business practices. (Hell, the Transit Mall is unsafe for everyone when all the rules are obeyed.) It's dangerous for you (and your fares) to be there. Don't let riders out in the auto lane either. When someone exits your pseudo-cab on the passenger side, your door swings open precariously close to the Transit Lane where buses and trains operate. Traffic behind you is also tempted to swing into our lane (without mirror-checking to see a 10-foot-tall vehicle bearing down on them). Your fares are also prone to leaving the car and dashing across the street between blocks rather than going to the crosswalk 10 yards ahead. As a general rule, you should NEVER conduct business on 5th or 6th Avenues downtown. It's rude, dangerous and foolish. Our BUS ONLY lanes are there specifically for our mega-ton beasts rather than your Precious Prius.
(Sorry to my oldest son: I'm bitching again. We transit operators have a LOT to complain about "out there" sometimes. I've held off a while, but it's been a rough week. Sometimes the wheels roll smooth; others, we hit many a speed bump.)
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
Monday, November 6, 2017
It startled me. Although the event he spoke of had happened a full half-hour earlier, I had already moved on. It happens. We're "shepherds of the public safety," as my brother Tom Horton says. Sure, it was a massive sigh of relief I breathed when it happened, but we do this every day. It's old hat. People today are incredibly unaware of impending doom, and we regularly save lives in the course of a day driving bus or operating a Light Rail Vehicle. It's just what we do.
The incident in question happened as I was servicing a downtown transit mall stop. My light was red, and people had just finished boarding. Scanning around me in preparation for departure, I noted several danger spots. As my eyes rounded to the crosswalk eight feet from my front bumper, I saw a man in a wheelchair enter the crosswalk. But the pedestrian signal for him was RED. Already aware of an approaching MAX train, my mind immediately sensed the danger. This man was wheeling toward disaster, directly into the train's path.
We're not supposed to "honk downtown." For some strange reason, our management frowns on us barking at idiots in the wrong lane, but they do allow us to warn people of impending dangers. This time, I laid on the horn. Warning the pedestrian, I also alerted the approaching train. The alerted operator stopped, and the pedestrian did so as well. He saw the front of the train, mere inches from ending his life, and shook his head as he wheeled back to the curb. When the train passed, he still had a red hand warning him not to cross. He did anyway, just as my light turned green. He just rolled across in front of me, not acknowledging my earlier warning which surely saved him from a painful end to his life.
I missed that green light. It's okay. They have a habit of changing back to green after a half-minute or so. That man didn't have an "extra life," but I had a few seconds to spare. Especially if it meant he'd keep rolling into the night, rather than becoming a bloody senseless transit pancake. On my next trip downtown, I saw this same gent jayrolling again through a different intersection, once again oblivious to the dangers of such folly.
When my passenger thanked me later, I was startled. People are usually so intent on their phones these days, I'm surprised when they see something notable. This gentleman's comment was a rare yet welcome highlight to a bus driver's day. Hopefully he called Customer Service to report my vigilant awareness, but chances are against it. People are more prone to complain than they are to praise.
It's okay. I'll do it again countless more times in this career. That's how we roll.
Sunday, November 5, 2017
"If you're a young band, and you have a choice about whether you're going to do this or not, you're in the wrong business, you know? I never had a choice. I would do this anyway, and do it if no one liked it, if no one came, I'd still be doing it."
-- Tom Petty, 1995
Like Tom says, I'd write even if none of you read my words. We all have something to say, and I've said plenty. Some of us share a bit of ourselves with whoever will pay attention, even if none of you do. Luckily for me, I've gained an audience. It's not incredibly huge, but it does keep exponentially expanding every year. For example, the first of this year my hit counter read 85,000. That was after 3.5 years of blogging. Today, it stands at 177,230 with nearly two months before 2018. So in one year, I will have over 100,000 reads. Considering how excited I was to get Hit #1000, it angers me when I take each for granted. Each one of your "hits" is still as meaningful to me today as when Tom first heard his music on the radio over 40 years ago.
Artists live for the thrill of performing. As I write, that's my performance. You don't need to see my face, it's the soul and feelings I share. If you know me, it's rather obvious I'm not the most prolific conversationalist. I'd rather listen, make mental notes. Discussion is awkward for me, always has been. Put me in front of a keyboard, then I can do something worthwhile. Put me behind the wheel of a bus, I'm competent, fairly smooth. Parties? No thank you. The possibility of doing interviews regarding my book scares me foolish. So does the possibility it might not sell as many copies as I hope. It's the creative mojo that rolls my wheels, sticking to the shadows and speaking through my fingertips. If people knew my face, it would be awkward and distracting. Writing to you is what I love doing... others can perform in front of you, but I prefer to communicate from the comfort of my home office when the world is asleep.
"It's the only time in my life when I really feel comfortable, and when time really stands still and I'm lost in that moment." -- Tom PettyFinally, my book (Buy it Here!) came to me in today's mail. I wasn't there to receive it. Had to drive, work first... always. That's why it's taken a year and a half to accomplish what I wanted to 32 years ago. Still, when work was done, I had more important plans before celebrating this dream come true. My youngest turned 20 today, and he's infinitely more important to me. Nurturing my children has been my main focus, and they have grown into wonderful people. I miss their child selves sometimes, but still see them that way in momentary glimpses. They are each very good, caring and dedicated individuals. I'm proud of each. My youngest amazes equally as much as his siblings, and I adore each of them.
|Al Margulies, one of this blog's earliest and|
most vocal supporters, holds his copy
of my book. Thanks, Al... for
always being there and
If I die tomorrow, this book would be a pretty good pinnacle. While not some earth-shattering literary masterpiece, it exists. I have no illusions of grandeur, as do many who write a book and consider it the best since Great Expectations. Putting sentences together is easy, but creating art takes a master. I'm no Tom Petty, but I'll always look up to him. He defied the status-quo and made a career just being himself. And that, as history has already noted, was a helluva great gig.
"Yeah, I'll be king, when dogs get wings. Can I help it if I still dream time to time." --Tom Petty, It's Good to Be King"I'm not done yet though, that's for damn sure. You haven't heard my last song. Soon, I'll leave Deke behind. Shred the shroud and be me for the rest of this elusive illusion we know as 'life.' As many of you know, my back-story is quite inspiring. Mom gave me the means, and now her soul is nodding in peace. Damn the doctors of yesteryear, just like Tom's torpedoes. We've blasted through frustrating obstacles the cosmos puts in the way of progress, and the road ahead is filled with potholes... but at least it's visible now.
Thanks for putting up with me. I hope you enjoy the ride half as much as I have. If management fires me for speaking my mind, I'll still have the wonderful feeling that you and I connected... if even for a few minutes.
Thursday, November 2, 2017
People don't realize how much work goes into such a project. In this case, it took several steps. First I read each post I had written and made a list of possible book entries. (Simultaneously, I kept writing new posts.) Once this was done, I decided to list them chronologically, and began transferring them into a document, editing as I went. Since I only had an hour or two after work each night, this stage took several months.
After choosing the posts, I decided to write a glossary of transit terms to put in the book, which added another month. Once all this was complete, the word count was around 150,000. My problem with brevity necessitated a heavy first round of editing, which took about a month. My own red pen chopped about 30,000 words. Just by substituting three words for five, four for seven or eight, I kept the original intent of each post while ensuring you wouldn't fall asleep halfway through a chapter. Then I sent it to a fellow bus operator, who made some valuable observations and suggestions. Referring to his notes, I chopped another 10,000 words. Afterward, I sent the manuscript to five family members and friends asking them to read it and offer edits and criticism. Only one took the challenge, and he ripped me a new body part. A professional writer in his own right, Roger was painfully honest, which is just what I needed. He and I have known each other since grade school, and that deep bond between us kept me from wanting to strangle him. (Writers have a love/hate relationship with their editors.) After I made another long list of changes, my beloved wife read it and found several other gaffes needing correction. Then it was back to Roger, and just for good measure, I had a college student put the manuscript under his finely-tuned microscope. Good thing Justin read through it, because he found some errors that would have been quite embarrassing.
By August of this year, I believed it was ready to go and hired a designer (Heidi North Designs, New York City) for a professional look. (Even bullshitters hire professionals, so I plunked down a chunk of cash and found a great one.) The book's cover was the first go-round, and she gave me three choices. When you present me with choices, I have to tear my hair off in chunks because decisions are terribly difficult for me. Finally, I picked one design. The interior took longer, because there are features I thought you would enjoy that needed to look and feel different from the chapters they referred to. Some of your comments were added in a section I called RAW (Readers Always Write). Several of the chapters needed a prelude to explain either how I felt as I wrote the post or added some other insights. These are called Deke's Notes.
Heidi and I discussed different styles, and I chose a font I've loved since I was a typographer, called Palatino. A classic typeface designed in 1949 by Hermann Zapf, Palatino is very easy on the eyes, and its italic form is visually orgasmic. I've used it on each of my poems, and was on my company letterhead and business cards when I ran a family typography business. She delighted me with the use of drop caps to start each chapter, which highlight Palatino's simple elegance.
When I received the first pass, it looked wonderful. The manuscript still needed some tweaking, which she did marvelously even though my methodology and software did not lend itself well to marking up the changes. The final mechanical process was made extremely difficult by Amazon, but we managed to come up with a final product that jived with specifications. There were variances of .6667" that drove us both insane. After many sleepless nights and fretful trepidations, Amazon finally accepted the files, and my book became a reality after 18 months and about 1,600 hours of painstaking work.
Releasing a book to the masses is not only a lot of work, but a grand leap of faith. Many people say they're going to write a book but don't; others write it but don't put it out to a worldwide audience; and some take the giant step of putting themselves out there. I've never been one to turn down a challenge. I would rather run into the field of battle knowing I could be struck down by an errant sword instead of cowering on the sidelines muttering "what if?" to myself for an eternity. My life has always been that way. If I charge up a hill with a roar, I've been able to plant my flag at the top and enjoy the view. Sure, many a time I've been knocked down. When that happens, I just jump up, dust myself off and keep fighting.
This project has pushed me back and kicked me in the balls so many times I have scars. Nightmares have been harsh; in one I was lynched by an angry mob of management trolls who left me hanging naked in the yard for all drivers to see. Hopefully, this isn't an indication of what's to come. The book pokes at management, but I tempered the language because my goal is to educate and inform rather than infuriate. Actually, I skewer pedestrians, motorists and bicyclists more strenuously than management. If I don't piss someone off, then I'm not doing my job correctly. It's the same thing for writing as it is bus operations. My greatest hope is that someone reads the book and changes a few habits, ultimately saving lives in the process. We see so many ridiculous gaffes out there and save countless lives on a daily basis, all around the world. It doesn't matter if you drive in Sydney, London, Barcelona or Boston... human beings exhibit much the save behavior as they do here in Portland.
My original goal was to publish my first book at the ripe old age of 25. Missed that deadline by decades. I hope you buy a copy (or two!). If you've read my blog a while, you'll recognize some of it. This version is cleaner, more professional. It's truly a labor of love. The blog has grown by almost 100,000 hits this year, which is notable because on January 1, 2017, it had 85,000 hits. You've been with me through some of the roughest spots in my career, and I appreciate your patience with my fits and rants. I've tried to add different avenues to the blog this year, and in May I will celebrate my fifth anniversary as a blogger. There's no telling how long I can keep this up, or whether my audience will continue to read it. Either way, it's been a helluva ride and I can't thank you all enough.
If you want a signed copy, come and find me. Or, mail your copy to Just Zakanna Productions with a SASE (old-school acronym meaning "Self Addressed Stamped Envelope"), and I'll sign it and mail it back to you. Just remember, Deke's identity remains a union secret. Be subtle, please. I'm still a bus driver, and need to concentrate on the road. If too many people know who Deke is, it would be distracting. My main goal is to remain kind, respectful, polite, thoughtful, patient, vigilant, calm, smart, smooth and above all, safe. That's pretty hard to do in normal conditions; if my head grows past its humble limits, it wouldn't be pretty.
Thanks for reading, and for your support and kindness. Meanwhile, it's time again, to JUST DRIVE.
Order "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane"
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
After a long year and a half, my book is published. It’s available in paperback on Amazon!
Order your copy now and please spread the word!
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